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COVID-19

Covid-19 cases in Europe back on the rise after weeks of decline

The number of new coronavirus cases has resurged in Europe after six weeks of falling figures, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

Covid-19 cases in Europe back on the rise after weeks of decline
The World Health Organisation's (WHO) European director Hans Kluge talks about the resurgence of the coronavirus (Photo by Ida Guldbaek Arentsen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP)

“Last week, new cases of COVID-19 in Europe rose nine percent to just above one million. This brought a promising six-week decline in new cases to an end, with more than half of our region seeing increasing numbers of new infections,” WHO Europe’s regional director Hans Kluge told a news conference.

“We are seeing a resurgence in central and Eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries where rates were already high,” he said.

“We need to get back to the basics. We need to enlarge the vaccine portfolio”, he said.


 

WHO’s Europe region comprises 53 nations and vaccination drives have begun in 45.

According to an AFP tally based on official numbers, 2.6 percent of the European Union’s population have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines and 5.4 percent have got one dose.

European officials are under pressure to step up vaccination drives that have lagged behind those of other countries, including Israel and Britain, which approved coronavirus vaccines several weeks before the EMA.

France has criticised a push by Austria and Denmark to coordinate with Israel on developing new Covid-19 jabs, as EU unity
frays even further over its troubled vaccine rollout.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the Israeli partnership on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines” leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.

Austria’s neighbours Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged on Wednesday “significant” shortcomings in the EU’s vaccination policies, but criticised what he called “attempts at secession”.

European nations should instead pool their resources to increase vaccine production capacity in Europe, “something we are in the process of doing”, the ministry said in its statement.

“The approval process for the European market has also been reviewed, with the introduction of ’emergency procedures’ for vaccines targeting new variants,” it added.

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COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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